BERKELEY, Calif. -- What started as a satirical bake sale against race-based admissions turned into a massive rally on university diversity and affirmative action programs Tuesday as hundreds crowded Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus.
The event was spurred by a bake sale run by the campus' student Republican group, where baked goods were offered at varying prices based on the buyers' gender, race and ethnicity.
Ward Connerly, a former UC regent and the mastermind of the 1996 state law that banned race-based preferences, helped staff the bake sale table, holding discussions with students.
"People have been mostly civil," he said.
"Back in 1996, believe me, this would have been a much more hostile situation. The issue is rapidly approaching the point of irrelevance."
The event was peaceful. At one point, hundreds of black-clad students lied silently on the quad in a message urging the university to increase student diversity.
One member of the Berkeley College Republicans said the event met its goal.
"We're having a lot of good dialogue with people, which is what we wanted," said Andy Nevis, a fourth-year student who is executive director of the Berkeley College Republicans.
Still, hundreds of students decried the sale, which they call racist and demeaning.
"It trivializes the struggles of people of color," said Joey Freeman, vice president for external affairs for the Associated Students of University of California student government. "They're taking it to the next level in an inappropriate way."
The ASUC passed an emergency resolution Sunday condemning discrimination against student groups, a direct response to the bake sale.
The Republican group called the event last week to counterprotest ASUC's support of a bill on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk that would roll back some restrictions on race-based university admissions. Similar bills have been vetoed in past years; a Brown spokesman would not comment on pending legislation.
Across the quad from the bake sale, the ASUC manned its own table, urging people to sign up to call Brown in support of the bill. Freeman said "hundreds" have signed on in support.
At the sale, cupcakes, cookies and muffins were selling well. Whites paid $2 per treat, while Asians paid $1.50 and African-Americans paid 75 cents and Native Americans 25 cents. Women got 25 cents off all purchases.
The bake sale started at 10 a.m. with about 100 spectators, but the number had swelled to triple that size when morning classes ended around 11 a.m.
Third-year peace and conflict students major Catalina Saldivia wandered down to Sproul to check out the activity. "It just struck me as something very unusual," she said. "It made me really curious."
She noted that opinions on both sides of the issue aren't dissimilar -- both sides oppose discrimination.
"I'm shocked that the reaction has been so negative," she said, "but I think the tactic is not the best one."
(c)2011 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.contracostatimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services